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Ex-Spartan Jackson Offers Great Value In NBA DPOY Race

Top rival Lopez isn’t even the best defensive player on his own team




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Forget about whether Brook Lopez is the best defensive player in the NBA and ask yourself this: Is Brook Lopez even the best defensive player on the Milwaukee Bucks?

The answer, objectively, is no. Jrue Holiday maybe be one of the best defensive guards in NBA history, while Giannis Antetokounmpo brings an unparalleled combination of strength, length, and quickness to that side of the floor. 

Lopez is probably the third-best defensive player on his own team, yet he is the chalk to win Defensive Player of the Year in the entire NBA, with odds ranging from -167 at BetRivers to -250 at WynnBET.

To be fair, Lopez, a brainy Stanford grad whose unabashed dorkiness makes him one of the league’s more affable personalities, has had an outstanding season protecting the rim at age 34. His 2.5 blocks per game are good for second in the league, and he possesses elite positional wiles as the Bucks’ anchor in the paint. But by the time an opponent reaches Lopez, he will oftentimes already have endured perimeter hectoring from the likes of Holiday, leaving him too gassed to finish with gusto.

A pillar in the paint

About nine hours almost directly due south on I-57, former Michigan State Spartan Jaren Jackson Jr. is the undeniable pulse of the Memphis Grizzlies’ grit-and-grind defense. Leading the league in blocks at 3.1 per game, Jackson was favored to win DPOY as recently as a month ago, but he has curiously slipped to second at Michigan’s mobile sportsbooks, with odds ranging from +120 at BetRivers to +180 at WynnBET.

Jackson’s relegation to bridesmaid status becomes downright inexplicable when you consider that he’s managed to stymie opponents without the stout assistance of center Steven Adams, who’s been injured for the past two months. 

On Sunday night, Jackson registered five blocks and three steals (to go with 15 points and 8 rebounds) in Memphis’ toppling of Atlanta on the road — the Grizzlies’ sixth straight win. Prone to injuries in past seasons, the 23-year-old started this season on the pine before making his debut in mid-November and making his first All-Star Game — largely on the strength of his defensive prowess. (Lopez was not selected for the All-Star Game.) With Adams out and all the nuttiness surrounding Ja Morant’s situation, Jackson has been a steadying force on a team that still has an outside chance of catching Denver for the top seed in the Western Conference.

Jackson not only out-blocks Lopez, he averages twice as many steals as the DPOY favorite and is asked to defend on the perimeter far more than his bigger, slower counterpart. Handing the award to Lopez would round out a neat late-career narrative, but to do so at the expense of a generational defensive talent like Jackson would be highway robbery, plain and simple.

Photo: Todd Kirkland/Getty Images